Natural disasters and other unexpected, disruptive events can bring out the best in people. Community members want to help in any way they can, and one of the easiest ways to lend a hand is through donations.

Congress recognized this as well, and on September 29, 2017, it passed the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act (Disaster Tax Relief Act), which incentivized donations to hurricane victims. Under the Disaster Tax Relief Act, individuals and businesses can make donations to a qualified charity to use for hurricane relief efforts without being subject to income limitations, which for individuals is typically 50 percent of adjusted gross income, and for businesses, 10 percent of taxable income.

Not-for-profit organizations affected by natural disasters may be able to harness the generosity that follows a natural disaster, but they should be careful. A widespread disaster requires a lot of rebuilding and investments, and so the field can quickly become crowded with requests for donations. Finding the right tone is also essential because playing too much on the tragedy can come across as exploitative. The following provides organizations with some guidance on how to take advantage of disaster relief efforts.

Put the Processes in Place to Collect Donations Before Accepting Them

Your organization may not be prepared for the quantity of donations or interest it receives in the wake of a disaster. It should establish a consistent collection and distribution policy and ensure that staff understands their roles in the collection and distribution process. Having the processes in place can help expedite the distributions of the contributions received.

Be Mindful of How You Ask

Between the media and the quantity of requests for help, most potential donors will be inundated with information about the disaster. Not-for-profit organizations will want to be careful not to exploit the devastation of the disaster in an attempt to raise more funds. Language should be specific to how the organization was affected and what services or capabilities are being restricted in the aftermath of the disaster.

Before broadcasting the message, make sure you have the buy-in from your organization's decision-makers. A communication strategy should also be implemented so your organization knows how to address questions and promote the effort across multiple mediums and audiences, from the recipients of the organization's services to local media. You may want to consider making information about your organization's tax-exempt status readily available to donors, such as including state registration information in fundraising requests.

Evaluate and Quantify Where You Most Need Help

Not-for-profit organizations have an advantage over disaster relief funds established by the Red Cross or other national relief groups in that not-for-profits can be specific about the amount they need. For example, an organization may need $500,000 to repair damage to its building or $100,000 to replace its vehicles. Donors, particularly those who have benefitted from a not-for-profit's services, may be more willing to contribute to a disaster-related relief effort if they have an understanding of how the donation is being used.

There should be a clear cut-off date for donations to specific projects. An end date can signal to donors that contributions made after a point in time may be used for other projects.

Communicate Before, During and After Fundraising

Organizations looking for funding for specific projects will have to be careful about project completion timelines. Donors may expect a date by which the organization will complete the project funded by the donations. Social media and other communications can help provide visibility into the progress being made and communicate any unexpected delays to the schedule. After project completion, you may want to issue additional donor communication that shows the completed project in operation.

Don't Be Afraid to Make the Ask

Not-for-profits may be surprised by just how many people want to help with a disaster recovery effort. They shouldn’t be deterred from asking just because other groups have started fundraising for their recovery efforts. Careful planning can help the community feel like it's making a difference and get organizations up and running again in a shorter amount of time.

For more information on fundraising tips, please contact us.

Published on October 27, 2017